This document has been created so that filmmakers can better understand the clearance procedures for feature/short film distribution or preparing their feature or shor film for consideration by AmazeFilms.
Even if your film will not be included in our programming, we strongly urge you to take heed to these guidelines (in addition to getting advice from an attorney) so that you can better understand clearance procedures for public film screening, television, Internet or home video distribution. Following these guidelines early on can prevent legal conflicts, hefty infringement penalties, injunction or other complications.
The following are guidelines that if followed will allow you to legally own and grant licensing rights without infringing or violating a person or entity's rights.
TAKE LEGAL MATTERS SERIOUSLY
Whether you are planning to win an Academy Award™ or make a short film to show your friends, it is advised to examine all legal aspects of your film at every step of the way. Quite frankly, you never know what kind of acclaim your film will receive, no matter what your initial intentions were. The last thing that you want to happen is be disqualified from a film festival or award ceremony because your film wasn't cleared in some way. Plain and simply, you should consult an attorney before you start shooting, while you're shooting and then once again once the product is done. Making sure that your film is cleared will allow you to garner the maximum possible exposure and avoid any repercussions from not clearing aspects of your film.
DO YOU REALLY OWN YOUR FILM?
By the time your film is completed you will probably have worked with a plethora of creative professionals. From actors to directors to voice-over artists to music composers to writers, chances are your film could not have been possible without all of their contributions. In order to avoid ownership disputes with these parties, filmmakers are always urged to complete the necessary paperwork to ensure that they have full permission to use the face, name, music, script or whatever else of the creative professional that was hired.
Additionally, it is integral that filmmakers follow the guidelines of the guilds and unions for the various creative artists that are hired such as crediting requirements, work hour restrictions, minimum compensation requirements and recognition of certain creative rights. Additionally filmmakers should make sure that they follow the guild's and union's guidelines for distribution and sales, such as limitations on the right to use clips, supplimental market payments, residual/reuse fees, etc.
There are several common oversights and misconceptions that are made when a filmmaker attempts to clear his or her feature or short film. Here are a couple to watch out for.
Be aware if there has been any past or pending litigation with any of the creative elements or individual parties involved in your production.
Make sure there isn't a close copyright or other hindering legal issue with any of the people or entities.
If it is likely to be impossible to complete the necessary legal work in the event of litigation, the entire production or the hindering entity should be avoided.
Make sure that the sources that you have used for legal information are reliable, and if they are not, find alternative sources.
Double check that any perceived "public domain" work is indeed open for use for worldwide exploitation without any hindering limitations.
GETTING THINGS CLEARED
1. Copyright Registration
The filmmaker should register their completed film, film title and script with the US Copyright office. The form to complete is form PA located at www.copyright.gov/forms. If there are any changes in ownership or legal matters, the filmmaker should submit relevant documents to the US Copyright Office to reflect any changes.
2. Script Clearance
Having the name and content of your script cleared before you begin shooting is highly recommended since some elements can't be changed once the film is done. Failure to complete the necessary clearances could result in having to redo elements or if that is not possible, the inability to screen or distribute your film at all. The following are some guidelines for script clearance:
Make sure that the individuals (deceased or living) or entities included in your work are unarguably false or fictional, and that none of the subject matter is injurious to reputation, offensive or revelatory of facts not generally known by the public.
When a film is fictional in whole or in part, it is important to use fictional names and avoid using a real person's name for characters.
Submit your final script to a script clearance company and follow the revision recommendations that they provide. Additionally, you should consult an attorney to ensure that all aspects of your script are cleared.
To locate a script clearance company, conduct a web search for "script clearance company."
If the script is based on or inspired by any other work, the filmmaker should obtain a copyright report from a reputable organization for all affiliated works. Both domestic and foreign renewal rights and copyrights should be cleared for all affiliated works.
To locate a company that can provide copyright reports, conduct a web search for "copyright services."
If the film involves actual events, an attorney should also look at all relevant source material such as newspaper reports, books, articles, court transcripts, interviews with witnesses, etc. If, prior to copyright registration, the filmmaker received the subject matter of anyone else that correlates to the script, then they should be able and ready to show that the submitting party may not claim theft or infringement.
Make sure that the shooting script follows all the above-referenced guidelines and doesn't stray from the cleared script. Often times, the shooting script incorporates different characters, dialogue or other elements that might not be cleared.
Register the script with the Writer's Guild of America at www.wga.org.
Filmmakers must obtain the necessary synchronization and public performance licenses from copyright owners of music and lyrics. Licenses must also be obtained on pre-recorded music from the owner of the master as well as from the copyright proprietors of the music and lyrics.
The acquisition of licensing rights to existing music is usually expensive and difficult. It is always recommended to use stock music or hire a music composer to score original music over acquiring the rights to use commercially represented music.
To find a stock music company, conduct a search on the web for "stock music." To find a company that provides music clearance services, conduct a search for "music clearance."
Filmmakers should make sure that names, logos or other indicia of identity of entities are not infringed upon.
The easiest way to research this is by conducting an Internet search for the name in question. For more detailed information consult a company that provides copyright reports.
To locate a company that provides copyright reports, conduct a web search for "copyright services."
If distinctive locations, buildings, business, personal property or products are portrayed in the film, written release forms should be obtained. This is not necessary if non-distinctive backgrounds use only is made of real property, provided the filmmaking is from a publicly owned area or an area on which the filmmaker has the right to be. Filmmakers should verify location issues with their attorney to make sure there are no legal conflicts.
6. Set Material
If any items that are protected by copyright (e.g. paintings, photographs, art objects, articles, book covers, magazines, newspapers, and even items of décor such as wallpaper, etc.), the filmmakers should obtain release forms from the copyright owners.
7. Sampled Footage/Audio Clips
If sampled footage or audio clips are used in the film, release forms should be obtained from the copyright owner. Additionally, filmmakers should make sure that any applicable guild and union guidelines are abided by.
To find various release forms conduct a search on the web for the appropriate form (e.g. footage release form, sample release form, etc.)
8. Actors/Performing Artists
Whether the film is fictional or actual, no names, faces, likeness or other indicia of identity of any recognizable living persons should be used or depicted unless written releases have been obtained. A release form is not necessary if that a person is part of a crowd scene or shown in the background. The terms "living persons" includes thinly disguised versions of living persons or living persons who are readily identifiable because of identity or other characters or because of the factual, historical or geographical setting. Aside from living persons, even dead persons (through their personal representatives or heirs) may have a "right of publicity" claim under certain circumstances (particularly involving commercial exploitation outside of the Film itself). Furthermore the family and/or successors of deceased persons may under the laws of certain foreign jurisdictions have the right to bring actions akin to defamation. Clearances should be obtained for the right to portray deceased persons unless the Filmmaker's counsel has concluded that the law clearly does not require such releases.
To find several different templates of actor release forms, conduct a web search for "actor release form" or contact the Screen Actor's Guild [www.sag.org].
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
As a general rule, all releases should give the filmmaker the sublicensable and assignable right to edit, add to and/or delete material, juxtapose any part of the film with any other film or work, change the sequence of events or of any questions posed and/or answers, fictionalize persons or events including the releasee and to make any other changes in the film that the filmmaker deems appropriate. Releases should include an express waiver of defamation, libel and waiver of privacy claims. If a minor gives consent, the filmmaker and its attorney must be able to verify and confirm that the consent is legally binding on the minor, or secure an appropriate parental guarantee after determining that the guaranteeing parent[s] is/are clearly credit worthy.
Filmmakers are also recommended to obtain Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance since they will remain liable for any claims that arise, even in the event a distributor such as AMAZEFILMS is sued. E&O insurance is designed to protect filmmakers from third party claims that arise in connection with their film(s).
If you would like more information, please consult an intellectual property or entertainment attorney.
To find one, you can conduct a search on the web for "entertainment attorney" or "intellectual property" attorney.